every fledgling novelist's dream: snagging a publisher that is actually
going to pay her. Ellen Meister's book deal with Morrow/Avon was
finalized this past November, and a target publication date of early
2006 is set for George Clooney and Other Secret Longings of the
story neither starts nor ends here. Like any good climax, there's been
some quality time invested beforehand in hopes of a languidly spent and
satisfying denouement. I caught up with this busy
mom/wife/novelist/hockey goalie (OK, I made that last one up) over
Hansen: After graduating college, you got a job in advertising. Were
you writing ad copy? Or what were you doing? What do you remember most
about those days?
Meister: My first job was actually not in advertising, but in the
marketing end of publishing. I worked for a small medical book
publisher and I think my title was "Promotion Associate." The business
operated on such a small budget that I didn't even have my own garbage
can. Honest. I had to improvise by taping an oversized envelope to the
side of my desk and throwing my trash in there. My boss was so
impressed with my ingenuity that she went out and bought me my very own
trash can. It wasn't quite enough to entice me to stay, however, and I
soon left to be an assistant to a literary agent. That was a terrible
job for me as my secretarial skills weren't nearly good enough for the
workload, and I left after a few months.
the fact that you gravitated toward jobs in and around the publishing
field a compromise (as it is for so many writers) between an unsure
future of writing and the getting a 'real job' real world reality?
I wasn't writing any fiction at all in those days. So it wasn't a
matter of getting a day job to make ends meet while I spent my evenings
in literary pursuits. I was attracted to publishing and advertising
simply because I liked words and books. And when I finally started
getting copywriting jobs I was thrilled. I enjoyed that work. I was
good at it, first of all, and loved that I did something for a living
that ended with a tangible thing I had actually created and could put
into a portfolio.
SH: So you
weren't one of those people who knew practically out of the cradle they
would be "A Writer." What turned you into one? Writing fiction is a
long process if one is to master it. What kept you plugging away
through what I affectionately call 'the early years of drivel?'
Ha! I actually WAS one of those people who always knew she wanted to be
a writer. I'm just a terrible procrastinator. Writing was always
something I was going to do later, when I had the time. For years I
called myself a writer and didn't write a single sentence of fiction
(unless you count advertising copy). Then one day I looked at my life
and thought, if not now, when? What the hell am I waiting for? Perhaps
it was my own version of a mid-life crisis. But at any rate, I had
three small kids at the time of this great epiphany, and virtually no
time to pursue this dream. But I had the bug then, and knew there was a
way to make it work. I simply had to. So I started getting up at 5 a.m.
regret that I waited so long to follow my dreams. But on the other
hand, I think I would have been a terrible writer if I had started
younger. I'm a late bloomer and I needed the maturity.
you were successful in other fields, copywriting, advertising,
marketing, etc. Why did you 'have to' write?
often think of writers as having a lot in common with exhibitionists.
People who take their clothes off in public want to be LOOKED at. They
crave that attention. Notice me and make me feel alive! Don't we feel
the same way about being read? We're baring as much of ourselves to the
world as we can. And we want APPROVAL for it.
So I guess I
"have to" write because I'm too shy to take my clothes off in public.
you shouldn't be. I've seen your bio photo. Va-va-voom!
You've recently garnered that ever elusive 'approval' in the form of a
big, fat book contract for your novel George Clooney and Other
Secret Longings of the Applewood PTA. What was the genesis of this
book and who made you (or why did you) change the title? (It used to be
George Clooney is Coming to Applewood.)
Thank you, Steve! I think I'll keep my clothes on anyway.
As far as the
genesis of the book, the idea came shortly after I made the decision
that I was going to get back to writing, no matter what. I had walked
into a PTA meeting, smiling and nodding at all the other moms, feeling
like I had this big secret. No one there knew I wanted to write. No one
even knew I had an inner life. All they saw was this PTA face. Then I
got to wondering if all the women in the room were thinking more or
less the same thing. That's when I knew I needed to write about these
women, and to explore the depth of their lives.
The title of
the book is still in flux. When I was first marketing it to agents and
editors, PTA was a dirty word. Who the hell wanted to read about PTA
women? Then something happened. ABC made a sexy, funny television show
about housewives and it became a hit. Suddenly it's okay to write about
these women. So perhaps it'll be in the title, I don't know yet. My
agent and editor seem to think it's a cool idea.
course, no one reading this interview watches TV because they are all
snooty literary elites, and they have no idea what you're talking
about. "Housewives, herm?" However, you say you decided on writing the
novel shortly after dedicating yourself to writing. Where did all those
short stories you have published on the Web and in print come from? In
between chapters of the novel you'd just pop one off or what?
how I said I was a terrible procrastinator? A lot of the short stories
were an excuse to put the novel aside for a bit. But I'm not
complaining. Writing short stories lets me flex different muscles, and
ultimately makes me a better novel writer. Kind of like a baseball
player taking time out to play basketball or hockey. (Good heavens. Did
I just use a sports analogy?) Also, the road to book publishing is so
very long that I needed the gratification of getting short stories
published along the way.
Michael Jordan playing baseball? Hey. That was a disaster! Bad sports
analogies aside, the ordeal you went through to get the novel published
reads like Homer's Odyssey, and you are Odysseus. How'd you get through
it? And, in discussing the rewrites that the novel underwent during
that process, you talk about applying 'band-aids' where 'surgery' was
needed. Can you be a bit more specific on what this means?
did I get though it? Well, I'm not sure I did, as I had at least one
bona fide panic attack somewhere in the middle of the ordeal. It's not
something I recommend.
As far as the
rewrite, I was lucky enough to land some brilliant agents. (Yes, that's
agents, plural. I'm jointly repped by two people at the same agency.)
They're as smart as they are ambitious, and they recognized, among
other things, that the novel's "through line" needed to be stronger.
That is, the central plot got lost in places where the subplots took on
a life of their own. I agreed with them, but thought I could make the
changes without doing major surgery on my chapters, which was an
intimidating proposition since it's a big complicated novel, with three
protagonists and lots of subplots. So I stuck band-aids all over the
damned thing, and my agents kept coming back to me and saying I hadn't
pushed it far enough. Finally I said there was nothing else I could do
and so they submitted it.
first editor who saw it rejected it for the very problem my agents had
been complaining about. At that point I got off my ass and did the
surgery required. And guess what? Once I got into it, it wasn't nearly
as hard as I thought it was going to be. And of course, I'm happy with
the finished product. The lesson learned is that it's a bloody process
and I should have just done the surgery to begin with.
Dammit, since you broached the subject a couple questions ago, I can't
help but ask the question: Are all PTA women naughty 'desperate
housewives'? What's wrong with men these days that they can't satisfy
their women? And are all these questions and more answered in your
your wife just have a baby? Are you worried what will happen when the
kid enters kindergarten and your wife joins the PTA?
be, because yes, PTA women are terribly, terribly naughty. Something
about those plant sale fund raisers makes us lose all control.
I can't speak
for all men and whether or not they're satisfying their women, but one
of my more sexually-charged characters is married to a man who was left
half-paralyzed and completely impotent from a stroke. To make matters
worse, the brain damage he sustained left him sexually uninhibited and
unaware of his inability to perform. Hence, he has a tendency to ask
strange women to fuck him. His wife copes by having an affair with the
Did I mention
that there's sex in the book?
What a novel selling point! Of course you'd put the poor GUY through
the torture of wanting it all the time, but not being able to 'perform'
as it were. Hey. Is that some kind of metaphor for all of us
Neanderthals? You are naughty.
serious note, how has having three children and a knuckle-dragging
husband to take care of affected your writing? Has it been a help or
hindrance or combination of both?
don't think I could have written about sex and kids if I didn't HAVE
sex and kids. So as far as this novel is concerned, it's definitely
been a help.
not the type who needs to be miserable and suffer for her art. I'm at
my best when I'm happy. So having a loving, non-knuckle-dragging
husband and three kids who make me laugh until I'm begging for oxygen
is a good thing.
is tough, of course, but I'll have plenty of time to rest when I'm